Much Love for Man 'Love'
Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
"I Love You, Man," is by and about men, but it should, by all rights, render all future Kate Hudson chick flicks obsolete; it so nicely meets the relationship comedy needs of both sexes. It's the story of a newly engaged man (Paul Rudd), who realizes, a decade or so into adulthood, that he's without guy friends and needs to remedy that. Fast.
Not to emasculate it in any fashion, but it's hard not to apply the word adorable to "I Love You, Man." Writer-director John Hamburg's exploration of male relationships is tender, yet macho enough to handle issues like a self-pleasuring "station" with the aplomb of frat boys in their senior year. Like Judd Apatow, Hamburg ("Safe Men") has a talent for mining the sweetest truths about masculine vulnerability from the bedrock of crude humor.
Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a Los Angeles real estate agent who proposes to his dream girl, Zooey (Rashida Jones) and then sits patiently by while she calls all her friends to celebrate. Initially they squeal in delight, but then, as women are wont to do, dissect him for Zooey's edification, descending, like a fleet of Harpies with good colorists, to point out his one apparent shortcoming: He has no close male friends, which translates to a best man crisis.
Most men in this situation would be content asking their gay brother (Andy Samberg, at his most darling) or even their father (J. K. Simmons). But Peter is a thoughtful, sensitive guy. And once it's pointed out to him, he decides the lack of men in his life is weird, and sets out to change that. Peter's willingness for introspection is one of about a hundred reasons he's appealing boyfriend material. But that doesn't mean he's a pushover; he's just a sincerely good man. So, he decides to go on some "man dates" to find that special manly someone.
There are a few that go amusingly wrong. The most uproarious of these features Jon Favreau in an exquisite rendering of that jerk everyone's favorite perky blonde (here played by Jaime Pressly) inexplicably married. Eventually, Peter finds a friend the organic way, hitting it off with a guy named Sydney who he finds mooching off his sandwich buffet at one of his open houses. (In a subplot that lives or dies depending on your level of interest in "The Incredible Hulk," Peter is trying, unsuccessfully, to sell Lou Ferrigno's home.)
Sydney (Jason Segel) is an affable, forthright fellow, who wastes no time in quizzing Peter about his fiancée. "How's the sex?" he asks, in the same tone someone might employ for, "How's that beer?" Far from Segel's classic lovable goof type (see "Freaks and Geeks" and his self-penned "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), Sydney is a bohemian player, the kind of guy who woos women by having the breezy self-confidence to pair Uggs with shorts, but no self-consciousness about it. He's like a less-burned-out, younger version of Jeff Lebowski, with a little more on the ball financially. Or seemingly so -- the movie is smart enough to keep us guessing. Could Peter end up saddled with a pest? Could this devolve into "What About Bob?" Or will these two guys with a deeply shared love of Rush be playing air guitar together in the nursing home?
Hamburg takes the tired old clichés of romantic comedies (ones like those found in his own unfortunate "Along Came Polly") and turns them on their collective heads. We go through the old standards -- a fitting for wedding clothes, tense introductions at an engagement dinner and even a climax at the altar -- but the gender bending makes it all feel fresh and lively.
There's also some real enlightenment here. A certain kind of man gets married, sinks into family life and forgets his buddies. We all know that man; many of our fathers tended to be that way. Finding new friendships later in life can be challenging, but particularly hard for men, especially if you crave intimacy as much as having someone with whom to drink beers. Peter has been waiting all his life to take refuge in the safe zone of marriage. Sydney regards Peter's notion of refuge with disdain and fear. Both face the possibility of loneliness down the road. "I Love You, Man" is about finding middle ground. To be so lovely while featuring an astounding feat of projectile vomiting is impressive.
Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/ Harper Collins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.